One of the first lessons that journalism students receive about newspaper design has to do with the importance of original images. Photographs and illustrations break up large chunks of text and encourage people to keep reading, not just on the pages of print newspapers, but on digital screens, as well.
Of course, captivating images do more than just break up blocks of text. They also help readers remember stories—which keeps them coming back for more. On average, readers remember about 20% of what they see in a text-based article. However, they remember 80% of the information in an image.
According to research conducted by 3M, content with visuals gets 94% more views, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. That means reporters can paint pictures for their readers much more quickly when they have images or infographics displayed next to their articles, and readers are more likely to remember the content of their articles, as well.
Need more proof of the value that original images bring to local publications? How about this statistic: According to an analysis by Chartbeat, most readers look at just 60% of any given web page or article, but they look at 100% of the visuals on a page. That’s one of the reasons why viral publishers like Buzzfeed go so heavy with the images, and why infographics have become commonplace alongside fact-heavy stories on the web.
The challenge for local publishers often comes with illustrating stories that don’t clearly lend themselves to visuals. For example, how do you illustrate a story about a car accident or a drunk driving arrest? What about an op-ed piece or a personal column?
Let’s look at some of the ways local publishers get access to the types of high quality images that drive engagement on their websites.
- In-house photographers – Following in the footsteps of traditional media companies, some local publishers are hiring in-house photographers on a full time basis. Although it can be expensive to employ a photographer full time, there is significant value. With the right organizational structure, a single photographer can capture all the images a local publisher needs, almost eliminating the need for stock photography. Additionally, publishers can sell their own images to readers, creating another source of ancillary revenue.
- Freelance photographers – Top local publishers have stables of freelance photographers they call upon to capture local events. When publishers hire freelance photographers, they pay only for the images they decide to use. This can often be cheaper than paying for a full time in-house photographer. The downside is that quality control can be challenging when working with freelancers, and there is always the possibility that no photographers will be available to cover an important event.
- Reader contributions – From a financial perspective, nothing is better than free. Local publishers who have developed solid relationships within their communities can solicit candid images from their readers to publish in exchange for photo credits. The challenge for local publishers using this approach is two-fold. First, the images captured by readers aren’t typically as high quality as those taken by professional photographers. Second, publishers sometimes have to work hard to find photographs of recent events when they go this route. Many publishers will use social media to ask whether any followers took photos of specific events, and then reach out personally to readers who say they captured images with their smartphone cameras.
- Stock photos – Stock photos are the least desirable option in this category, but there are times when stock photos are necessary. The downside of using stock photos on a local news website is that they can appear generic, and as a result, readers might be less engaged. The best stock photography can also be expensive. However, there are times when a particular topic just doesn’t lend itself to original photographs, and in those times, a stock photo is still preferable to having no photo at all.
- Illustrations – Photographs often don’t make sense alongside personal columns and editorials. In these cases, local publishers should still use images to drive engagement. Instead of photographs, publishers should consider illustrations. Small publishers can hire freelance graphic artists to create original illustrations, or they can purchase illustrations from on-demand marketplaces like Fiverr.com.
In addition to improving web design and increasing the likelihood that readers will make it to the end of articles, high-resolution photographs also make it more likely that content will get shared across social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
If you’d like to learn more about the best web design strategies for local publishers, we’d love to chat.